• Posted on October 28, 2014
What There Is Before-the bed

What There Is Before There Is Anything There

I spent most of my childhood scared stiff. As the youngest in a family of seven, I was first to bed. There were no bedtime stories. I don’t recall being tucked in. It was ‘get to bed’ and that was it. Light on in the hallway. Door open. Once I was under the covers, I did not move a muscle or shift a single finger, for fear that I would disturb whatever or whomever was Liniers coverlurking in the shadows. It didn’t help that I would often smell boloney being fried in the kitchen downstairs, as if the party started once I went to bed. Otherwise innocuous early 70’s television theme songs like Mission Impossible wafting up the stairs deepened my anxiety, becoming synonymous with my banishment. Forty years later I no longer remember what I was afraid of, just a vague recall of the anguish bedtime represented.

Liniers umbrella guy

What There is Before There is Anything There, the newly translated book by the Argentine cartoonist Liniers, is a perfect reflection of that nameless fear. The boy in this story, like every similarly afflicted kid, knows that once the lights are turned out and ‘the ceiling disappears’, the dark is not empty. Indeed, as he lay in bed, the first in a series of strange little creatures descends from above – on an umbrella. It stands at the foot of his bed, staring and silent, and yet its lips are pursed, as if whistling. One by one, the rest of the creatures appear, surrounding the boy’s bed. None of these ghouls are particularly scary, and in fact are rather whimsical, but their wordless vigil is incredibly unnerving. Once all the creatures have gathered, the dark void takes shape, transforming the bedroom into a nightmarish wood. Gorey-esque branches surge toward the child, and a face appears in the murk.

Liniers black monster

Liniers I Am What There Is

The boy runs to his parents’ bedroom, where he is the recipient of that time-honoured parental admonishment – it’s just your imagination. When you’re a kid, there is no room for subtlety. It’s all real. Unlike so many ‘scary’ kids books, Liniers does not rationalize, dismiss, or even resolve the boy’s fear. It is what it is. Indeed, when the boy is allowed to sleep with his parents ‘for the last time’, the creatures follow him (or at least the little guy with the umbrella) to bed. It is a devilishly mischievous ending, and it made me giggle.

Liniers surrounded

Individually, these nightly visitors are not particularly threatening, and in a less menacing context they could be the boy’s imaginary playmates (with the exception of that, um, bit of weirdness in the dark). Liniers is, after all, a cartoonist, and while the story may be nightmarish, his gorgeous watercolour and pen illustrations (in particular his characterizations of the boy and his bedtime crew) are little gems of wicked humour and expert draftsmanship. What There is Before There is Anything There is a validation of the imaginative mind, regardless of where it leads. As the title suggests, making something out of nothing, literally pulling it out of the darkness, is the very essence of imagination.

Some children (and adults) might think this book too scary, but others will find the boy’s predicament familiar (as I did), and therefore reassuring. Most will appreciate the humour. As Liniers is keenly aware – it’s fun to be scared, and What There is Before There is Anything There is a lot of fun.

Liniers (full name Ricardo Siri Liniers) is an internationally well-known Buenos Aires-based cartoonist, whose daily comic strip Macanudo has run for over ten years in Argentina’s La Nación. His work has appeared in newspapers, books, Liniers detailand magazines, including The New Yorker and Rolling Stone. Liniers’ first North American picture book, The Big Wet Balloon was named a Parents Best Book of the Year. On the dedication page of What There is Before There is Anything There, Liniers states, “…to my parents, who turned out my light and lit up my imagination.” Perhaps, just perhaps, What There is Before There is Anything There is not just a quirky picture book, it is also an autobiographical story of a kid who grew up to be a brilliant artist.

 What There is Before There is Anything There by Liniers (translated by Elisa Amado). Published by Groundwood Books, 2014

  • Posted on October 05, 2014
Willy's Stories cover

Anthony Browne & the Illustration Cupboard

I had purchased tickets in March to see Kate Bush in London September 9th, but was unable to commit to the trip until three weeks prior to the concert date. Not sure why. A lot of money, I guess, for a short trip, but in the end, I realized that if I didn’t go, I would regret it for the rest of my life. It had been 35 years since Kate had last performed, and if I had to wait another 35, we’d both be dead. So, in mid-August, I finally booked my ticket. As it turned out, I would have about a day and half to explore London. I’d visited the city on previous occasions and did not feel compelled to hit all the the touristy stops, nor did I have the time, but I did want to see if there were any illustration galleries I could visit. Edmonton is a lovely place to live, but illustration, even at the University level, is not a visible, or truly appreciated art. There are fantastic illustrators in the city, and in Alberta, but no gallery caters to illustration art. We have neither the population nor the interest. In fact, I had never been to a gallery specifically dedicated to what I consider to be the finest of all the arts – picture book illustration.

Illustration Cupboard

The first thing that popped up on Google was THE ILLUSTRATION CUPBOARD in central London. And, in a delightful twist of fate, the upcoming exhibit would be featuring the art of Anthony Browne – former Children’s Laureate of Great Britain, primate painter extraordinaire, and one of my all time favourite illustrators. What a crazy random happenstance! So, the Illustration Cupboard was added to my list of destinations, along with the Tower of London (to meet the Raven Master), and a bookstore, if I could find one.

In the early afternoon of September 9th, I emerged from the Green Park District Line underground and, after several missteps, detours, and many failed attempts to orient myself using a map, I found the Illustration Cupboard, located in a very picturesque area of London (St James). A very busy, and high-end area as well. The gallery is tucked into a sloping street of shops, close to Fortnum & Mason (and its provocatively displayed sweets). I knew I was in the right place when I saw Anthony Browne’s newest book, Willy’s Stories, in the window. It was tremendously exhilarating to a: have found the place, and b: stand in front of Anthony Browne’s original artwork. The title of the exhibit was 30 Years of Willy the Wimp, his frequent protagonist (and chimpanzee) who is arguably Browne’s ‘shadow’ self. It was very interesting seeing the illustrations up close – they are far more delicate and beautiful than I could have imagined. This is not to suggest that the printed illustrations are anything less than magnificent, but the originals have a virtuosity of detail that, I can see now, is impossible to reproduce. There is genius in every line, whether in a chimp’s face, or the trunk of a tree. It is also oddly cheering to see areas of white-out. Watercolour, even for the great Anthony Browne, is a bitch.

Illustration Cupboard Gorilla

The Illustration Cupboard not only has original art, it also has the most exquisite collection of picture books, most of which have been signed; a crack house, in other words. I spent a long time in front of the Anthony Browne display but in spite of the first edition signed copies, I settled on his most recent book Willy’s Stories, which was also signed. I have most, if not all of his books at home, and as much as I would have liked to purchase ALL of the signed first editions, I just couldn’t. My addiction, thus far, is manageable, but given the right circumstances (robbing a bank), I could imagine spending many thousands of pounds in this gallery, starting with a certain chimp.

Illustration Cupboard selection

In addition to the Browne, I picked up a signed edition of The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde (Hutchinson, 2013), with illustrations by Alexis Deacon – an illustrator I’d never heard of, but fell in love with on the spot. Also, The Wonderful Egg by Dahlov Ipcar (Flying Eye Books, 2014). It’s a reissue of a book originally published in 1958. What can I say, I have a soft spot for vintage illustration, and the Ipcar The Selfish Giant coverbook has the most wonderful dinosaurs! There were many temptations at The Illustration Cupboard, including a selection of very beautiful limited edition books, in particular Through the Looking Glass, with illustrations by John Vernon Lord, but time was ticking, and I wasn’t at all certain that I could find my way back to the Green Park Underground. Turns out, I was right, ending up on embassy row, but a kindly man in a guard’s uniform came to my rescue, and I was soon on my way back to Hammersmith. My directional challenges were no fault of the Illustration Cupboard – the location being quite straightforward (once I found it). For reasons beyond my comprehension, I enjoy a certain, shall we say, mental distance from maps and logic, and at no point during my stay in London did I have a single clue as to where I was, or what direction I was facing.

It was several days (and many, many hours in airports) before I read through Willy’s Stories, which is a companion of sorts to Willy’s Pictures, published a few years ago. In Willy’s Pictures, Willy introduces the reader to his favourite works of art. In Willy’s Stories, it is great literature that inspires the affable chimp, and it begins with a trip to the library ~

“Every time I walk through these doors something incredible happens. I go on amazing adventures.”

Yes, and that’s just how I feel every time I open a new Anthony Browne book.

Willy's Stories down the rabbit hole

Reading, for Willy, is a full-immersion sport. One day he is Peter Pan, sword fighting with Captain Hook on the deck of a ship. Another day he’s a character in Alice in Wonderland, falling down a book-lined rabbit hole. As these classic children’s stories inspire Willy, so do they inspire Browne to create some of his most beautiful work to date. Typically, an Anthony Browne illustration is awash in bright colour, a counterbalance to the muted monkey-browns of Willy and his primate kin. Occasionally, however, Browne goes full on, fairy-tale dark, as in the painting that accompanies Willy’s description of a scene from the Wild Wood in The Wind in the Willows. The ghostly spectre of a fantastically gnarled tree sits in the middle of the page, every branch scarred by half-formed creatures. Eyes stare out from the murk while Willy, almost invisible in the autumnal colours of the forest floor, hides in a hollow at the base of the tree, terrified. Who knew Wind in the Willows could be so creepy, or inspire such dark imagery? There is nothing wimpy about that chimp’s imagination! And yet, in spite of the spookiness, Browne’s masterful illustration retains his signature playfulness in the humourously camouflaged details, like the row of books tucked into a hollow of the tree. In fact, books are present in every illustration in Willy’s Pictures (much like the bananas that have so often made appearances in previous books). As always, nothing is quite what it seems.

Willy's Stories tree

As gobsmackingly wonderful as it was to see Kate Bush in concert, the opportunity to see Anthony Browne’s original artwork was, in its own way, equally exhilarating, and inspiring. My deepest gratitude to the Illustration Gallery for having the foresight to run this show while I was in London. So kind of them! And of course, for their continued celebration and promotion of great illustration and illustrators. My only regret is that I couldn’t stay a longer. The current show (Sept 24 to Oct 18) is The Art of Shaun Tan, another one of my absolute faves. Ah well…

Willy's Stories WillyWILLY’S STORIES by Anthony Browne, published by Walker Books, 2014

Other Anthony Browne reviews:

One Gorilla: A Counting Book,

Willy’s Pictures

Little Beauty

For more exciting stories about my adventures in London, read THIS.

  • Posted on September 27, 2014
Henry Homer Hudson detail 1

Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum

Everything has a story. So opens the extraordinary new book Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by first time author/illustrator Zack Rock, and yes, as the whimsical title implies, not only does this museum itself have a story, every single object within the walls of this old schoolhouse has its own eccentric life. And if you happen to be the curator of this museum, you’d better know how to tell a story. No problem. Homer Henry Hudson is your man, or should I say, dog.

Homer Henry Hudson's Curio Museum coverHomer, an old bulldog, is like one of the curio items in his museum: worn around the edges, perhaps a little out of place, full of quirk, and resonant with history. He may have a cloudy eye, but his vision is clear, and his taste for adventure knows no bounds. You see, everything in the museum has been discovered, collected, and/or presented to Homer over his long life as an explorer, and over time, the items have become totems – the material representation of past adventures. His first discovery, a Conatusaurus Skull (#0001) ‘no bigger than a chicken and as rubbish at flying’, found in the soil of his family’s farm, awakens an ‘unquenchable curiosity’ about the world and sets Homer on a life-long quest to uncover, to put it mildly, the unusual.

Ostensibly, Homer’s job is to keep the museum presentable for the visitors, and to ‘sit quiet as a curio’ while they explore the exhibits. Each item is accompanied by a description and a personal note as to its provenance. There are thousands of objects in the museum, but it is always his hope that the visitors will gravitate toward the few ‘favourite bits and bobs’ that have become emblematic of his travels. Some are stand-alone objects, like the Radial Tide Diviner (#0023), a device used by soothsayers on Calypso Island to ‘predict the future based on tidal pattern.’ Unfortunately for the Calypsoian civilization, the entire island slipped into the Ionian Sea after an earthquake in 487BC. “Shame the device never warned the soothsayers that their island sat on a massive fault line,” writes Homer.

Homer Henry Hudson Radial Tide Diviner

The Manneken Mort

The Manneken Mort

Other objects provide a through-line from one part of Homer’s life to another. A young girl who gives the explorer a  Nóttlandian Stuffed Animal (#1981) in gratitude for plucking her out of the rebels’ grasp makes an appearance later in the book when she presents Homer with the Manneken Mort of King Ingmar (#3415) –  a parting gift from her deceased father King Ingmar for saving his daughter’s life. A Manneken Mort is a figure made of fabric bands, each band representing one story in a Nóttlandian’s life. When a person passes away, friends and family gather, and as as each story is recited, another band is added. Like the discovery of the Conatusaurus Skull, upon seeing the Manneken Mort, Henry’s wanderlust is stirred. Has his last band been woven? More importantly, does his explorer’s hat still fit?

Zack Rock’s sepia-infused illustrations in Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum are little masterpieces of humour, imagination, and of course, gobsmacking beauty. Anyone who has ever picked up a watercolour brush will understand how little control one has over the medium, and given the complexity of Rock’s illustrations, it’s no surprise that he does a significant amount of planning before brush hits paper. “Usually I make a small, loose(ish) thumbnail sketch of the scene, just to get the composition down. Once that’s resolved, I do a larger, more detailed final sketch. That gets blown up on Photoshop and printed out so I can transfer it over to watercolour paper using a lightbox. If I have any hesitation about the colours, I do a quick digital mock-up in Photoshop before the painting begins. After that there’s no turning back; I’m walking the tightrope with only my brush for balance.”

Homer Henry Hudson Temple Montepaz Choir Finch

There is a completeness of vision to Rock’s Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum that is cinematic, like a Terry Gilliam film. It is a very particular and artistically playful world, matched in tone and style by Rock’s equally playful word choices. One could spend days with this book and still find visual and narrative treasures anew, like a portrait of Kafka (with antennae) tucked into the corner of a wall, or Homer’s amusing description of how he collected an ornate stone head: “I charged my plane toward the hidden city like a bull…though I lack provisions, I rammed ahead. Though I flew through a porridge of fog, I rammed a head. And then I rammed a head.” Brilliant.

Homer Henry Hudson bottle

Though a bulldog, Homer Henry Hudson is the embodiment of that most human of qualities – the desire to find meaning in life, even in the of smallest objects and the most seemingly unimportant events.

“Look around. Look closer. That bit of cloud may be the first puff of a newborn volcano. Those tree bark scratches may be an obscure secret code. That discarded rock might once have been, or may someday be, the cornerstone of a great kingdom. Everything has a story.”

Homer Henry Hudson hat fitsThe old bulldog’s declaration at the beginning of the book invites us in to the world of an ‘eccentric explorer extraordinaire’, but by the end of the book, it takes on a deeper resonance. A call to be mindful, to seek out stories, and most importantly, to be the story – to keep adding those bands to our own Manneken Morts, regardless of our age, or breed.

According to his website, Zack Rock is a writer, illustrator, and ‘cardigan enthusiast.’ Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Rock spent most of his childhood in California, a state not particularly synonymous with cardigan weather. He received his Master’s in Children’s Book Illustration from the Cambridge School of Art in Cambridge, England – suspected source of his love for light, buttoned sweaters. His work has appeared in magazines, newspapers, video games, comic books, and on album covers. Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum is his first picture book, but I have it on good authority that others may be in the queue.

Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum (Creative Editions, 2014) by Zack Rock

Homer Henry Hudson end page

  • Posted on July 29, 2014
The Promise Davies Carlin

The Promise

Be the change that you wish to see in the world ~ Mahatma Gandhi

If I had to name the theme I am most drawn to in children’s literature, it would be the transformational power of nature. It must have started with a youthful reading of The Secret Garden, or perhaps it’s a Canadian thing, but whatever the source, a walk in the woods can do wonders, figuratively of course, and also metaphorically, in books. But what if there are no woods? Arguably, children’s books that reflect (and celebrate) the urban experience are growing in frequency and popularity, but few deal directly with the other side of city life – the concrete wastelands that are the byproduct of urban decay and our ever growing estrangement from the natural world.

The Promise cover

Most children’s books tend toward the utopian, especially in terms of setting. In The Promise, Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin hold up a mirror to our dying, degraded cities, and then, with a simple gesture, present us with a most beautiful and transformational resolution.

It is unclear whether The Promise is set in the present, or in a dystopian future, but the initial pages suggest a parched world where nothing grows. Carlin’s illustrations, stunning in their cool, abstract beauty, depict scenes bereft of colour: bleak, industrial, and entirely cheerless. The patchwork of buildings, distinguished only by the number of blackened windows, seem lifeless. The are streets empty, but for a few dogs and a scattering of people, all of whom reflect the broken connections of a town that has lost its way. There are many types of disconnection in Davies’ evocative tale, but threading through all is the disconnect from nature. In a harsh and ungiving environment, the people have lost the ability to find fellowship with each other. The young girl at the centre of the story does not distinguish herself from the ‘mean, hard and ugly’ people of her community. Indeed, she will even steal a bag from an old woman.

This is where The Promise takes flight. After a struggle, the old woman promises to let the bag go if the girl promises to plant what is within. Dismissing her words, the girl makes the promise, and is surprised to find not food and money in the bag, but acorns.

“I stared at them, so green, so perfect, and so many, and I understood the promise I had made. I held a forest in my arms, and my heart was changed.”

The Promise seeds grow

Like a Johnny Appleseed for the 21st century, she sets off on her journey, planting the acorns along roadways, train tracks, apartment buildings, abandoned parks; anywhere, and everywhere. When the trees begin to sprout, the people are curious. Curiosity soon gives way to wonder. Wonder gives way to joy. As life returns to the city, a community is reborn, and the pages of The Promise fill with breathtaking, transcendent colour.

The Promise colourful trees

Green spread through the city like a song, breathing to the sky, drawing down the rain like a blessing.”

Her mission continues, to other ‘sad and sorry’ cities, until she has, in turn, become an old woman with a bag of acorns. It is at this point she begins to narrate her story.

What is most profound about The Promise is that Nicola Davies takes a complex issue like urban decay, and shows us in simple, elegant prose the human cost – in a state of nature deficit, we cannot thrive. We may not even be able to live. More importantly, she places the responsibility for change on individual acts of stewardship. An important lesson not just for kids, but for everyone.

The Promise is a deeply moving and gloriously illustrated book that does not shy away from scenes of despair, nor does it suffer from a failure of the imagination, like so many other stories with an environmental message. On the contrary, Davies and Carlin envision a brighter, more communal, and nature-abundant future, in the actionable now.

The Promise birds

Nicola Davies is a zoologist and an award winning author of many nature-centric books for children. Clearly, she is a woman who has taken a walk or two in the woods. A woman, in other words, after my own heart.

The Promise is Laura Carlin’s first picture book, which is rather astounding. A graduate of the Royal College of Art in London, Ms Carlin has recently illustrated The Iron Man by Ted Hughes.

The Promise by Nicola Davies, illustrations by Laura Carlin. Candlewick Press, 2014

For additional reading along a similar vein, I would suggest The Curious Garden by Peter Brown, which is based on the guerrilla gardening movement on Manhattan’s abandoned High Line.

On a related note, I love this Ted Talk by Amanda Burden, former city planner for New York, on how public spaces make cities work.

  • Posted on June 18, 2014
Mister Bud Wears the Cone fight

Mister Bud Wears the Cone

Some books radiate charm. Often, it’s not any one factor, but a seamless blend of clever writing, exquisite illustration, and a third, more elusive ingredient – a goodness, for lack of a better word, superseding all. This is Carter Goodrich territory. With the release of Mister Bud Wears the Cone, the third book in his dog-centric series, I can state unequivocally (and with a great deal of affection), the man knows how to charm.

Mister Bud Wears the Cone further examines the sometimes fractious relationship between two dogs: Mister Bud, a generously snouted, routine-loving mutt, and Zorro, a tiny, goatee’d pug. In the first book of the series, Say Hello to Zorro, Mister Bud is introduced to Zorro, his new ‘sibling’, and is none too pleased to share his comfortable, predictable life with the eager young pup. In the second book, Zorro Gets an Outfit, it is the pug who is faced with an untenable situation, in this case an embarrassing piece of clothing, and like Mister Bud, his path toward resolution is both funny and sweet. In Mister Bud Wears the Cone, the bone is once again tossed to Mister Bud, who in this outing must deal with that most intrusive of protective pet care devices – the dreaded cone of shame.

Mister Bud Wears the Cone blue

As the story opens, Mister Bud has developed a hot spot on his flank, which he can’t stop bothering. His mother (who like all humans in this series is never fully depicted), comforts Mister Bud with ointment and hugs, which infuriates Zorro. Not only is he grabbing all the attention, his ailment is delaying their shared schedule of ‘biscuit then a walk time.’ It gets worse. Mister Bud must wear the cone. Mister Bud hates the cone. For awhile, he has an ally in Zorro, Mister Bud Wears the Cone cone onwho tries to help Mister Bud remove it, but when all attempts fail, Zorro loses interest. Like all similarly afflicted dogs, Mister Bud is a half-blind, stumbling disaster with the cumbersome cone. Like all siblings, Zorro can’t help teasing Mister Bud, laughing at his clumsiness while helping himself to the biscuits. When Zorro takes his favourite toy, Mister Bud runs after the pug and the cone knocks over a lamp, breaking it. Never let it be said dogs aren’t capable of schadenfreude. While Mister Bud cowers under a chair, consumed with guilt, Zorro eagerly awaits the inevitable parental reprimand. But…as anyone who has ever been around an animal wearing a cone knows, it is impossible to feel anything but sympathy, and in Mister Bud Wears the Cone, generosity of the heart, and of the treat, is a given.

The continuing adventures of Mister Bud and Zorro are meant to be funny and entertaining, and they most certainly are, but as an illustrator and dog lover, what I find particularly interesting is how Goodrich imbues his pooches with pure canine authenticity. They are the very personification of the complex emotional lives of dogs. This is no small feat. Goodrich is a master of comic characterization, and from schnozz to tiny paws, these dogs are hilarious. Their wildly expressive and beautifully exaggerated features might exclude them from the Westminster Dog Show, but Goodrich never loses Mister Bud Wears the Cone annoys Zorrosight of their essential dogness. It’s in their physicality – in the way they hold their bodies, the perkiness of their ears, how they lean in, how they nap – it’s all dog, and because of this, these tells, they radiate emotion. It’s easy to love these guys – to feel for them, to laugh at their predicaments, to sympathize not only with Mister Bud’s frustrations, but also Zorro’s. Anyone who has ever had a sibling, or is the parent of siblings, will recognize the rivalries, but also the companionship that forgives all. Anyone who has ever had a dog will see their own mutt in these comical canines, cone or no cone. And even if none of the above applies, Mister Bud Wears the Cone is just a darn good story, with heart-thumping emotion, loveable characters, and spectacular art.

Mister Bud Wears the Cone mom

My favourite doggy in the world underwent surgery several weeks ago for the removal of five lumps (all benign, thankfully.) When Maggie was released the day after surgery, she had two large shaved patches on both sides of her torso, another two on her neck, and multiple stitches. Doped up and disoriented, she emerged out of the back of the vet’s office wearing a comically large cone and a woeful, accusatory expression. In short, she looked miserable, very much like Mister Bud. The cone didn’t last beyond the car, the patient didn’t bother with her wounds (much), and once the daily schedule of biscuit-then-nap-time resumed, she relaxed. Like Mister Bud and Zorro, it’s all about the routine. And the snacks.

Mister Bud Wears the Cone coverI am a long-time fan of Carter Goodrich, having been an illustration junkie for many years. Particular favourites are his numerous New Yorker covers, and his character designs for Despicable Me, Ratatouille, The Croods, and Finding Nemo, among others. A Rhode Island School of Design graduate, Mr Goodrich has illustrated a number of children’s picture books, including A Creature Was Stirring, The Hermit Crab, and the aforementioned Say Hello to Zorro and Zorro Gets an Outfit. Fingers (and paws) crossed, Mister Bud Wears the Cone will not be the last in this brilliant, and beautifully imagined series.

MISTER BUD WEARS THE CONE by Carter Goodrich. Simon and Schuster, 2014

Previously reviewed (click on the title):

Zorro Gets and Outfit by Carter Goodrich. Published by Simon & Schuster, 2012

Say Hello to Zorro by Carter Goodrich. Published by Simon & Schuster, 2011

– See more at: http://32pages.ca/2012/06/17/zorro-gets-an-outfit/#sthash.XDdNpc7c.dpuf

Zorro Gets and Outfit by Carter Goodrich. Published by Simon & Schuster, 2012

Say Hello to Zorro by Carter Goodrich. Published by Simon & Schuster, 2011

– See more at: http://32pages.ca/2012/06/17/zorro-gets-an-outfit/#sthash.XDdNpc7c.dpuf

ZORRO GETS AN OUTFIT by Carter Goodrich. Simon and Schuster, 2012

SAY HELLO TO ZORRO! by Carter Goodrich. Simon and Schuster, 2011

Zorro Gets an OutfitSay Hello to Zorro!

 

 

  • Posted on May 26, 2014
Winston & George chillin

Winston & George

It is early May, and in the brown season of a northern spring, excruciatingly slow in its progression, colour is like an oasis in a desert: startling, and restorative. In the absence of anything resembling a flower in the garden, I look to books for visual nourishment. In the newly published Winston & George, by John Miller and Giuliano Cucco, every page is a feast for the eye, with colours so vibrant and wet, I was surprised that my fingers were not stained with green and orange paint when I closed the book. Even more surprising – the illustrations languished in an attic for almost 50 years before author John Miller and publisher Claudia Bedrick of Enchanted Lion Books brought them into the light.

Winston & George cover In the early 1960’s, Miller, an American writer living in Rome, created four nature-themed picture books in collaboration with the Italian artist Giuliano Cucco. Though garnering interest from publishers, Cucco’s energetic, full-colour illustrations proved to be too costly to print (for that era), and so the project was shelved. Decades later, a fortuitous attic renovation revealed the long forgotten brown portfolio, and much to Miller’s surprise, Cucco’s illustrations retained their original brilliance. Enchanted Lion Books enthusiastically agreed to print Winston & George, as well as the other three picture books. Let the feast begin…

Winston & George relax

Winston & George have a mutually beneficial relationship. From his perch on Winston’s snout, George spots fish, Winston catches them, and both enjoy a nice dinner. Winston is an easy-going crocodile with a big, friendly smile and an abundance of patience for his pal. George is a prank-playing rascal. Although his usual target is Winston, he is not above ribbing an entire float of crocodiles, none of whom share Winston’s sufferance of the bird’s endless teasing. Not willing (perhaps unable) to let sleeping crocodiles lie, George yells DANGER, and then delights in their frantic splashes as the startled crocodiles plunge into the water. Demanding an explanation, George replies:

“I thought…I thought I saw a danger prowling through the jungle. A dangerous danger, a very scary dangerous danger.”

 

Winston & George Winston dives

The crocodiles are not amused, and in a fit of exasperation, suggest that Winston eat the bird, but the softhearted crocodile cannot imagine fishing alone without his friend, and so, the pranks continue. Winston understands that George is just spirited, not mean-spirited, and like all true besties, ignores the more irksome aspects of his pal’s personality in favour of companionship.

Even with the best of intentions, however, pranks can be carried too far, as happens when George makes Winston dive into a shoal of mud, and his snout gets irretrievably stuck. George is terrified, but his attempts to garner help from the other crocodiles and the hippos falls on deaf ears, until he agrees to one condition: he must stand inside Winston’s jaws and be gobbled up. In one of the more hilarious scenes in the book, the animals make a long chain, and successfully yank Winston out of the mud, flinging him across the water to the shore, where George awaits his fate. Apprised of the scheme, Winston clamps down on the bird, and announces his demise with a loud burp. But their buds, right? To the end. Once the crowd disperses, George pops out of Winston’s mouth, and offers not only his heartfelt gratitude, but a promise to never prank again. Interestingly, it is Winston, not George, who pulls off the biggest prank – making his aquatic community believe that he has dispensed with the pesky bird, when in reality, crocodile, and crocodile bird, continue on as before…with perhaps a deeper understanding of one another.

Winston & George George steps in

The initial impact of Winston & George is clearly visual. It is a stunning book, but while the illustrations are not meticulously detailed, they do demand thoughtful inspection of each quirk-filled page. In the burst of bright, primary colour it’s easy to focus on the overall exuberance of the art rather than the individual scenes, but make no mistake, there is a lot of personality in Cucco’s depiction of swamp life. This is especially evident in the wonderfully expressive faces of the characters, who possess a kind of relaxed goofiness which seem more in line with contemporary tastes than those of the mid-1960’s. Much like the illustrations, John Miller’s words have not mouldered with age, but are as fresh and good-humoured as if written months, not decades ago. In a funny way, maybe Winston & George needed to hang back a bit, and wait for us to catch up to it.

Winston and George Friends forever

Sadly, Giuliano Cucco (1929-2006) did not live to see the publication of Winston & George. However, thanks to the efforts of John Miller and the publisher, Winston & George will be followed by The Whirligig’s Story, The Red Spider Hero, and The Cicada and the Katydid.

John Miller’s youthful adventures in the natural world inspired his later work as a teacher and as a writer for The Audubon Society, The Natural History Museum, and the New York Times. Before I Grew Up, the story of Giuliano Cucco’s years as a young artist, recently written by Miller, will be published in May, 2015.

Winston & George by John Miller, illustrations by Giuliano Cucco, Enchanted Lion Books, 2014

Read more about the evolution of Winston & George  HERE.

  • Posted on April 08, 2014
I Wish I Were a Meerkat detail copy

I Wish I Were a…

I will go on record and state, unequivocally, that meerkats are my favourite animal – of the undomesticated variety. I fell in love with these quirky critters in the last century, in a nature documentary, and as if often the case, my esteem for this observant little mongoose now encompasses a small collection of  meerkat-related I Wish I Were a...coverknick-knackery and various forms of printed matter, including the new picture book,  I Wish I Were a… by Werner Holzwarth and Stefanie Jeschke.

With their flat foreheads and bulging eyes, meerkats border on the homely, but my admiration stems not from their physical beauty, though they are achingly sweet-faced, but from a cluster of qualities that are equal parts socially ingenious and endearing. It is their personality, in other words, that makes them truly loveable. With all this going for them, who would have thought a meerkat could be insecure?

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  • Posted on February 26, 2014
I Am Not Little Red Riding Hood detail

I Am Not Little Red Riding Hood

Well, OK then. The fact that the child is not wearing a red hood already differentiates one story from the other. And there’s the bear. Not a wolf, mind you, but a big, white bear. As the rosy-cheeked girl in Alessandra Lecis and Linda Wolfsgruber’s new book I Am Not Little Red Riding Hood is so keen to remind us, her story has nothing to do with the Grimm (or Perrault, depending on the translation) fairy tale. Yes, she has a red scarf, and she takes a basket into the woods, but that is the end of it. This is her story.

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  • Posted on January 31, 2014
EPSON scanner image

Henny

In the autumn of 2013, when I first learned of Henny by Elizabeth Rose Stanton, I was so struck by the premise – a chicken with human arms – I did not need to read further. It just seemed so funny, so completely absurd. And full of possibility. I immediately put in an order, and then followed the author on Twitter and Facebook for updates. In the months leading up to the January publication of the book, Elizabeth Stanton made me fall in love with Henny. I was not alone, and it was fascinating to watch a character generate so much goodwill and support via social media. Indeed, I was so excited about the publication, I mistakenly ordered it twice.

Henny coverThere is no doubt that having arms gives a chick certain advantages, especially on a busy farm. In addition to helping the farmer with his chores (including milking a very nervous cow), Henny can point, brush her teeth, and pick up little bugs with chopsticks. And yet, challenges exist. Long sleeve, or short sleeve? Left hand, or right? Without wings, will she ever fly? Young Henny suffers her worries alone, but along with arms she is also gifted with imagination, and she has big plans for her life. This perhaps, is her true advantage.

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  • Posted on January 15, 2014
Bear's Song in the woods

Why I Didn’t Make a Best-Of 2013 List

I have a confession to make: I am a bookaholic. In a generous mood, I might call myself a ‘bibliophile’, but this self-reverential term is too polite to describe my affliction. Like a drunk, I am surrounded by the tumbling, stumbling evidence of my failure to abstain, or at the very least, moderate. I am a reader, yes, and an enthusiast, but superseding all is my need to possess. I am a collector. I cannot resist books. Not all books, of course, but even within my narrow fields of interest, the blooms are legion. I must pluck them all.

It’s just after Christmas and I’ve spent a fruitless week attempting to organize a fresh crop of books; those I bought, and those that were given to me in acts of sheer, if not well-meaning, recklessness. I am surrounded by enablers. It’s not their fault (such is the manipulative nature of addicts), and to be honest, I am so exacting in my predilections, none dare stray off a list, and most resort to gift cards. The result is the same: another stack of books. In 2013, I have acquired many such stacks of books, all vying for attention.

I have another confession to make: sometimes I don’t read them. A year may pass before I lay eyes upon a spread of illustrations, that months ago, so entranced me. At the time, it was enough to bring the book home, but the joy of adoption is soon dampened by remorse. It’s not that I regret buying the book, it’s the knowledge that I am apt to treat it badly. Neglect. Pile upon pile.

Book chaos

Since becoming a blogger in 2010, the situation – my addiction, has escalated. The entire world is my enabler, and my acquisitions have increased accordingly, in direct proportion to my indolence. More books, fewer reviews. Crippling guilt. It’s crazy. No one pays me for these reviews, there are no deadlines or hyperventilating bosses (or readers) breathing down my neck. And yet, I feel accountable to the books, these little gems, and to the authors and illustrators who created them. Out of sheer gratitude, I am compelled to play a role, however small, in the advocacy of their newly published work, and picture books in general. It is my pleasure and privilege to do so, but the numbers are overwhelming. Picture books may not be my only passion, but it is the one that distills my disparate interests into a single expression of joy. And lately, dread.

Some days are manageable, and I am able to focus on a single book. Other days, I despair at the never-ending lineup of new publications and dusty old favourites deserving their hour upon the stage (of my blog.) From every teetering stack, I hear their pleas. Yes, I do. Without a meticulously worded post, what are they but another book on the pile? If I were faster, my attentions less scattered, would I feel less paralyzed? Is it my aspirations that are out of whack, or my accumulations? How is it that my fellow bloggers are so prolific, many of whom have small children, while I, with no such draws on my attention, fail to post? Or, as is often the case in my life, am I just over-thinking it? However it shakes out, the bottom line is that in 2013, I did not review all the books I wanted to, and whether it makes sense or not, I feel really bad about that. The books deserve better. Now, instead of radiating joy on my bookshelves, they are little piles of judgement, which is no way to be a collector. In light of this, it seemed disingenuous to make a list of favourite books of 2013, as so few reviews were written, and some books in my possession were not even read.

To assuage my guilt –  I have read, and made a list of every picture book I’ve purchased or was given to me last year. I am not going to write full reviews, at least not at this time, and ultimately, not for every book, but I cannot go forward without acknowledging the beauty that came my way in 2013. The books on this list (24 and in no particular order) are as worthy as any other book on my blog; their exclusion merely a matter of quantity, not quality. More to the point, my talent for finding beautiful books exceeds my ability to write about them (in a timely fashion.) As for 2014, fewer books, more reviews. Maybe…

Bear's Song coverThe Bear’s Song (Benjamin Chaud-Chronicle Books, 2013) One of the best books of 2013, or any year. In style, tone, and content, The Bear’s Song screams vintage, but it’s a mere three years old (originally published in France in 2011.) Harkening back to the days of Richard Scarry, Benjamin Chaud’s oversized, detail-crammed book is exactly the kind of thing I loved as a kid: busy, colourful, and terribly funny. Chaud’s elaborate drawings of Papa Bear chasing Little Bear, who in turn is chasing a bee through the country, city, and backstage at the opera are pure delight. Finding himself on stage, Papa Bear tries to get Little Bear’s attention by singing a song, but it backfires. The look on Papa Bear’s face as the audience clears the hall is priceless. The Bear’s Song is a book to linger over, to absorb, to memorize over a lazy Saturday afternoon. It makes me wish I were a kid again.

Jane, the Fox, & Me (Fanny Britt/Isabelle Arsenault-Groundwood Books, 2013) A truly magnificent book. I do hope to write a longer review, but suffice to say, this graphic novel about bullying and a young girl’s achingly fragile journey toward self-acceptance is Jane, the Fox, and Me coversimply one of the most profoundly beautiful books I’ve ever read. Ridiculed at school, and ignored at home, young Helene finds salvation through books, specifically Jane Eyre. In cartoon panels and occasional full-page spreads, we learn of Helene’s chaotic life in sombre tones of grey and black. Moments of literary retreat are depicted in vibrant colour, as is the fox who shows up in a moment of grace. Isabelle Arsenault illustrated one of my favourite books of 2013 – Once Upon a Northern Night. Whether she is painting the face of a troubled girl or a snow-covered tree, Arsenault does it with exquisite sensitivity and skill. Jane, the Fox, & Me reminds me of another gut wrenching graphic novel from Quebec, Harvey (Herve Bouchard/Janice Nadeau.) Must be something about the longer format…or the province.

Bluebird coverBluebird (Bob Staake-Random House, 2013) A wordless counterpart to Jane, the Fox, & Me, Bluebird  addresses the subject of bullying, loneliness, and exclusion, as well as kindness and companionship, thanks to a little bluebird who enters the life of a solitary young lad, and saves it, in more ways than one. Oblivious at first, the boy eventually notices the bird following him everywhere he goes, and they become friends. His days are filled with joy and laughter, until the bullies show up again, as they always do. Although the ending is somewhat ambiguous, what is clear is the bird sacrifices himself for the boy. Staake handles these scenes with great sensitivity, although it is undeniably bittersweet. Was it not enough that the boy found solace and companionship in nature? The computer generated illustrations are lovely, with few colours save the birds and the lightly tinted, geometric cityscape.

Mattias Unfiltered coverMattias Unfiltered: the Sketchbook Art of Mattias Adolfsson (Boom! Town, 2013) Adolfsson is something of a revelation. The Swedish artist has elevated the doodle to a fine art. With little text, the sketch-filled pages are a visual expression of the artists’ unfettered imagination. In ink and watercolour, Adolfsson’s lightly satiric and incredibly funny drawings of robots, dogs, people (often the artist himself), potatoes, elaborate architecture and Rube Goldberg-esque machinery are so staggering in their breadth, they are (for me) mentally exhausting. How could one guy be so clever, so often, and so beautifully? It’s outrageous! There are hints of Terry Gilliam and Sergio Aragonés in Adolfsson’s work, but make no mistake, he is a complete original. He is also a genius.

The Second in Line: From the Sketchbooks of Mattias Adolfsson-Sanatorium Fortag, 2013) The pre-publication offer of an autographed book Second in Line Adolfsson(with personally designed button) was impossible to ignore, and so…not being one to deny myself (as I have so breathlessly outlined), I am pleased to be the owner of a beautiful, signed book. Like Mattias Unfiltered, Second in Line is a collection of Adolfsson’s most recent sketches. Wild stuff, and beautifully designed with a slipcase and poster.

Backstage Cat coverBackstage Cat (Harriet Ziefert/Jenni Desmond-Blue Apple Books, 2013) One of many books purchased on the spot; no thinking required. (Years of advanced picture book studies have so refined my tastes I can tell in an instant whether a book will be coming home with me.) Ostensibly a cat story, Ziefert is also celebrating theatre life, with all the backstage chaos and pre-show preparations, captured in gorgeous detail by London-based artist Jenni Desmond. Simon (the cat) is frightened up a prop tree after hearing a loud noise backstage. With help from the stagehands, and eventually, ‘his lady’, Simon is coerced down, but like all cats, Simon is a born scene stealer, once again ending up on stage later in the evening. It’s all about Simon, and Backstage Cat is all about the illustrations.

Rules of Summer cover

Rules of Summer (Shaun Tan-Lothian Children’s Books, 2013) I spirited this one out of England, as it is not yet published in North America. It is, of course, extraordinary, in the sense that there is nothing ordinary in Shaun Tan’s surrealist world. Rules of Summer is a template for those who wish to enjoy the summer, without the annoyance of giant rabbits, tornadoes, and strangely menacing steam engines. The rules are negotiated between two boys, and are entirely random: don’t leave a red sock on the clothesline, don’t be late for a parade, etc., It is like an OCD playlist in a post-apocalyptic landscape: do, or don’t do this, thus ‘preventing’ something unfortunate. The paintings are incredibly beautiful. Nightmarish, yet somehow affable. Shaun Tan has long known how to tap into the darkest corners of his imagination, but he never fails to amuse (while blowing our minds.)

Bird King coverThe Bird King: an Artist’s Notebook (Shaun Tan-Arthur A. Levine Books, 2010) I find artists’ notebooks endlessly fascinating, but calling the The Bird King a collection of sketches is vastly understating the issue, as many of the doodles, story ideas, observations, and stream of consciousness scribbles are themselves, works of art, able to stand side by side with the fully realized books these drawings were destined to inspire. In the introduction, Shaun Tan writes about artist’s block. Hard to imagine, given the breadth of his imagination. His solution is to just start drawing, which is what Paul Klee called ‘taking a line for a walk.’ As with all Shaun Tan books, especially one that is as spontaneous as The Bird King, you will be amazed at where this walk leads.

Hansel & Gretel detail

Hansel & Gretel (Brothers Grimm/Sybille Schenker-Minedition, 2013) A couple of kids about to be cannibalized by an old witch is about as grim, I mean, Grimm as you can get, but in this instance, it Hansel & Gretel coveris tempered by Sybille Schenker’s intensely lovely illustrations. The title is die-cut on the black cover, and the pages within are equally unusual, incorporating opaque paper inlaid with silhouettes of various scenes, blocks of patterned colours, and stark, heavily outlined characters. Design is in the forefront, and the result is a very unique and darkly engaging interpretation of a well-known fairytale.

Fall Ball McCarty coverFall Ball (Peter McCarty-Henry Holt & Company, 2013) Long-time fan of McCarty’s exquisite work. His tube-shaped characters are always amusing, but it is his meticulous application of ink and watercolour that most impresses. Although this could be said of many of the artists on this list, there is truly no one like Peter McCarty. Not a single, beautiful line is wasted. Fall Ball is a celebration of seasonal pleasures, friends, and football. There’s a wistful hint of bygone days in story of kids playing in the leaf-strewn autumnal air as the after-school light dims. One by one, they are called for dinner. Who doesn’t have a memory of that? Lovely, funny, and nostalgic (not that I ever played football.)

You Are Stardust (Elin Kelsey/Soyeon Kim-Owl Kids, 2012) “We You are Stardust coverare all connected. We are all nature. We are all stardust.” An origin story encompassing the entire universe, from bits of exploded star to the single cell that is the core of all life on the planet, You are Stardust is a remarkable book. It is also subversive, in the sense that it conveys a sense of wonder without resorting to the supernatural. Soyeon Kim’s multimedia collages are interesting, but it is Kelsey’s poetic story of our interconnectedness that most captivates.

Hello My Name is Ruby coverHello, My Name is Ruby (Philip C Stead-Roaring Brook Press, 2013) A book that flew away with my heart after just a few pages, Hello, My Name is Ruby is the gentle story of a little yellow bird and her quest to find friends. Though not always successful, Ruby is unfailingly kind, meeting a number of wondrous creatures along the way. Although she does not appear to be lost, she is unlike all the other birds and animals she meets, until one friend (an ostrich) leads Ruby to her flock, and of course she brings all her new friends with her. The breezy, pastel-coloured illustrations are very fine indeed; a perfect compliment to Stead’s simple, warm-hearted story.

Ike's Incredible Ink detail

Ike’s Incredible Ink (Brianne Farley-Candlewick Press, 2013) I am a sucker for pen & ink, so a book about the creative process starring an actual ink blot is a slam-dunk. Ike the ink blot wants to write a story, but like all true artists, ink or otherwise, Ike gets stuck, and so he cleans his home, and chats with his friends. Ike's Incredible Ink coverProcrastination plagues us all, even characters in a picture book. Eventually, Ike has an epiphany: the key to finding something to write about is having ‘your very own ink’ (effectively taking procrastination to a whole new level.) Ike sets about collecting shadows, feathers, and something from the dark side of the moon to create his personalized ink, and in the end, he has both his ink and his story. Superb illustrations and clever, perhaps autobiographical story-telling. Though the publication details do not specify whether or not Ms Farley devised her own personalized ink, the fact that this book is on the shelves suggests that she was not (permanently) foiled by the blank page. Good for us.

Henri’s Walk to Paris (Leonore Klein/Saul Bass-Universe Publishing, 2012) Originally published in 1962, Henri’s Walk to Paris is a Saul Bass 101, incorporating his signature visual sensibilities within the framework of a simple story. A boy, enamoured with Paris, decides to leave his small town and walk to his favourite city. Henri's Walk to Paris coverThough he never quite makes it, along the way he learns to appreciate the small pleasures of family life in Reboul. Bass was a famous mid-century designer whose unmistakeable squared-off style touched everything from movie title sequences (The Man With the Golden Arm, Vertigo) to product design. He only published one picture book, but it’s a knock out. To further my education, I purchased Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design (Laurence King Publishing, 2011) which is a very comprehensive overview of his life and career. It’s a lovely book, but at 400 plus pages, I should have stuck with Henri.

Mr Leon’s Paris (Barroux-Phoenix Yard Books, 2012) Mr Leon has been Mr Leon's Paris covera cabdriver in Paris for many years. Throughout his career, he has seen many different parts of Paris, and in particular, makes many friends from every possible background. A perfect setting, in other words, for some imaginative arm-chair traveling. Barroux’s illustrations are absolutely stunning; much of it drawn in pencil and pen with blocks of off-centre colour. Though I would not use this book as any sort of travel guide (unless I wanted to get lost), the art is worth the trip.

The Day the Crayons Quit (Drew Daywalt/Oliver Jeffers-Philomel Books, 2013) This book has everything going for it, including the title. Any book with illustrations by Oliver Jeffers is bound to be stupendous, and a story about crayons on strike is, as far as I know, completely virgin Day the Crayons Quit coverterritory in children’s literature. Duncan just wants to colour, but when he opens his box of crayons, what he finds is a stack of letters from every crayon in the box. The list of grievances is long: Red crayon is used too much and never has Christmas & Valentine’s Day off. Pink is suffering from neglect because it’s a ‘girl’ colour, and Beige has an inferiority complex (in comparison to brown.) Who knew crayons lived such complex emotional lives? Daywalt and Jeffers (who I imagine is very familiar with crayon conflict resolution), creates a sympathetic and rather jolly group of characters. I will never look at my crayons the same way again.

One Gorilla coverOne Gorilla: A Counting Book (Anthony Browne-Candlewick Press, 2012) One for the collection, and you must collect Anthony Browne. Like haystacks were to Monet, so primates are to Browne. In his realist-with-an-edge hands, our brothers from another mother are painted with great affection and breath-taking attention to detail. These primates are beautiful and cheeky, some mugging for the ‘camera’, others in full command of their majesty. Orangutans, chimpanzees, macaques, and Browne himself (#10) are arranged in group portraits, each page a wonder of artistic brilliance and familial love. ‘All primates. All one family.’ And one gorgeous book.

The Voyage (Veronica Salinas/Camilla Engman-Groundwood Books, 2012) The Voyage is like Shaun Tan’s Arrival, but for a much younger (and less visually sophisticated) audience. What both books share is the sense of dislocation and disorientation one experiences when moving to unfamiliar surroundings. The protagonist in Voyage coverthis book is a duckling ‘blown so far away, he forgets who he is and where he comes from.’ Many creatures come to his aid, but it is not until he meets a duck with big feet that he is finds out who he is: “You are who you are”, answers the big-footed mallard. What a relief! Eventually, the duck learns to understand his new home. Swedish illustrator Camilla Engman’s menagerie of animals (and a fantastically cheery fly) are minimalist in style, a bit goofy, and extraordinarily likeable. The Voyage exudes warmth as it addresses complex issues like self-awareness and inclusion.

Girl of the Wish Garden coverThe Girl of the Wish Garden: a Thumbelina Story (Uma Krishnaswami/Nasrin Khosravi-Groundwood Books, 2013) Absolutely stunning. Even the story of how this book came to be is remarkable. India-born author Uma Krishnaswami adapted the words of Hans Christian Andersen to the paintings of Irainian-Canadian Nasrin Khosravi’s Farsi interpretation of Thumbelina, who in this version is called Lina. The story is familiar: a tiny girl, a languishing swallow, but in Krishnaswami’s poetic hands, a more hopeful ending. “…she ran instead into the map of her own life spread out like a carpet – all of it, birdsong and lonely fear, wind-chime and mouse-fret and illuminations of what was yet to come.” Khosravi’s illustrations soar off the page, with hints of Chagall and Gennady Spirin in the wildly imaginative and vibrantly coloured imagery. Though Khosravi died before the two could meet, it’s as if the words and art were created in unison, line by line. Magnificent.

Sowa CoverSowa: Meister der komischen Kunst (Verlag Antje Kunstmann, 2013) Entirely in German, but for connoisseurs of all things Sowa, there are many new illustrations, making the text somewhat irrelevant (although I do hope an English edition is eventually published.) As the title (in translation) suggests, Sowa is the master of comic art, and every illustration in this book confirms his mastery. I was very pleased (and surprised) to see the inclusion of a photograph of Sowa in his studio. There is very little about this brilliant painter in English (or anywhere, I think), and photographs are especially rare. Nice to put a face on the man who brought us Esterhazy, Little King December, and a succession of adventurous pigs and pensive dogs.

The Fox in the Library (Lorenz Pauli/Kathrin Schärer -NorthSouth Books, 2013) A celebration of libraries, books, and (with the help of the former) outsmarting your enemy. A Fox in the Library coverfox follows a mouse into a library. The mouse gives the fox a book about chickens, and the fox forgets about eating the mouse. Again in the library, the newly acquired chicken (in the mouth of the fox) sees the farmer with a poultry recipe book, and the chicken offers to teach the fox how to read if the fox digs a tunnel under the chicken coop. Everyone’s happy for the price of a few books. German artist Kathrin Schärer’s lovely pastel and coloured pencil illustrations are excellent. Especially if you like foxes. And libraries.

Once Upon a Memory coverOnce Upon a Memory (Nina Laden/Renata Liwska, Little, Brown, 2013) Ever since The Quiet Book, and especially, The Christmas Quiet Book, I have been a fan of Renata Liwska’s gentle, utterly charming illustrative style. In Once Upon a Memory, Liwska has found the perfect compliment in author Nina Laden’s sweetly evocative tale. A feather drifts in through a window, initiating a series of questions: does the feather remember it was once a bird? Does work remember it was once play? Does an island remember it was once unknown? Once Upon a Memory is thought-provoking, and it is also reverential, with a core of stillness. Be observant. Everything, everyone, has a story. Beautiful.

Battle Bunny coverBattle Bunny (Jon Scieszka & Mac Barnett/Matthew Myers-Simon & Schuster, 2013) I will write a longer review (in the near future), simply because I love the premise of this sly and hilarious story. A young boy gets a sickly sweet present from his grandmother called the Birthday Bunny. Like many books written for children, it is cloying, condescending, and terribly unimaginative. The writing is bad. The illustrations are bad. Alexander is so bored, he creates his own story, crossing out words, adding his own, and ‘re-drawing’ the art to his own tastes. Taken at face value, the book is deliciously funny, but Scieszka, Barnett and Myers are making a much-needed point about the dreck that is endemic in children’s publishing: generic, unimaginative books that fail to engage, and in fact, fail on every level. Happily, though these books are everywhere, there are plenty of children’s books that engage, challenge, and entertain, like Birthday Bunny (the Alexander version.)

Boot & Shoe (Marla Frazee-Beach Lane Books, 2013) Absolutely wonderful on every level, from the clever Boot & Shoe coverwriting to the whimsical illustration. Two identical, be-whiskered pups are born into the same litter, live in the same house, and do everything together, except Boot spends his days on the back porch, and Shoe spends his on the front. Enter chaos in the form of a squirrel, getting ‘all up in’ Boot and Shoe’s business. The dogs chase the squirrel around the house until they find themselves on opposite porches, wondering where the other has gone. Boot and Shoe are confused and spend a long night without food or sleep, quietly (and rather poignantly) worrying about each other. Luckily, they meet the next morning at their favourite pee tree. Brilliant. The soft prismacolour and gouache illustrations capture both the lazily content, pre-squirrel existence of Boot and Shoe, as well their post-squirrel troubles. The whole thing seems effortless; there is not a single, wasted line or moment. In tone, voice, and illustration, Boot & Shoe is in perfect balance. I feel nothing but love (and a little jealousy) for this book.

There may be a few more books lurking in my collection that deserve an airing, but this list represents the bulk of my 2013 acquisitions (in addition to the reviews already posted.) THANK YOU books for being beautiful, and for being in my life. Now, please stop yelling at me.